Deval Patrick was fond of saying he was governor for the whole state -- a dig at Massachusetts’ Boston-centric political culture. It has been clear for the last eight years that Patrick has a fondness for western Massachusetts.
At a ceremony with the governor last week welcoming high-speed passenger rail service to Greenfield, Congressman Richard Neal of Springfield echoed comments Patrick has heard many times at many public appearances in the state’s four westernmost counties.
"Western Massachusetts has not had a better friend than our neighbor Deval Patrick," Neal declared to a round of applause.
The fact Patrick has a second home in Richmond no doubt made it easier for him to pay attention to western Massachusetts. It has been observed that his public schedule during warm weather months often included Monday morning or Friday afternoon events in the region.
But, Patrick said there was more to his connection with western Massachusetts than a vacation estate in the Berkshires. He vowed early on in his first term to not ignore the area as he believed his recent predecessors had.
"One of the things I learned in the course of the first campaign was how left out people in this region felt in previous administrations. Like it was an afterthought, if a thought at all," Patrick said recently.
Partrick re-staffed the western Massachusetts governor’s office located in the state office building in Springfield, which had been closed by Republican Governor Mitt Romney due to budget cuts. The move was seen as symbolic of Patrick’s commitment to the region.
He became the first sitting governor ever to visit the small Hampshire hill town of Goshen, according to local historians. Patrick went there in 2008 to sign a bond bill to bring broadband to the state’s rural areas.
" The phrase you have heard is about legislation sent to the governor's desk. Well, the governor's desk is in Goshen now, so lets sign this bill," Patrick said to a crowd of people in front of town hall.
More than symbolism, Patrick demanded substance for western Massachusetts. Cabinet secretaries said he never failed to ask at meetings what they were doing for western Massachusetts.
All of the attention was invaluable according to Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse.
" Every big public infrastructure project we've done in Holyoke over the last several years has been a result of his administration deciding to make that public investment. He has been instrumental in turning this Commonwealth around," said Morse
Some of the investments the state made in western Massachusetts during the Patrick administration include the high performance computing center in Holyoke, a state data center in Springfield, the new Great River Bridge in Westfield, and the planned reconstruction of the I-91 viaduct.
Patrick became personally involved when North Adams Regional Hospital closed earlier this year to assure people in the northern Berkshires had access to health care.
Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Patrick played a pivotal role in the city’s resurgence. When Patrick took office a state finance control board was running the city. Now, Springfield has the highest bond raiding in its history and a $40 million rainy day fund.
It certainly did not hurt Patrick politically to pay attention to western Massachusetts, according to Tim Vercellotti, political science professor at Western New England University.
" The Pioneer Valley votes pretty reliably for Democrats. It is only about a sixth of the electorate, but not a part of the state to ignore if you are a Democrat running statewide," said Vercellotti.
On the night of June 1, 2011 Patrick and a convoy of public safety officials raced west from Boston on the turnpike after hearing reports of a tornado in western Massachusetts. What turned out to be the most powerful storm to strike the state in 50 years claimed three lives and left a path of destruction through a half dozen communities, including the state’s third largest city.
Patrick promised there would be a silver lining from the dark clouds.
"There is partnership here that we have seen in such robust measure in the immediate aftermath that we need to take to the longer term work of not just rebuilding, but reviving the affected communities," Patrick declared at a forum to discuss tornado recovery.
" I think people felt that even if it took a long time to rebuild the governor had our backs out here and that is not something you can say about all governors when it comes to western Massachusetts," said Vercellotti.
Governor-elect Charlie Baker has also said he will govern for the entire state. After initially saying he was uncertain as to whether the western Massachusetts governor’s office would remain open, Baker said recently he will keep it staffed.